"I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

Thomas Jefferson
Sept. 23, 1800

Friday, August 30, 2013

Here There Be Monsters

I LOVE maps, especially old maps, and most especially old maps used by sailors. One of the best features of such maps are the monsters. Monsters populated the spots where sailors hadn't tread, or in some cases, places the map maker hoped others wouldn't tread (like really good fishing grounds.) I wish today's map-makers would include a few monsters, you know, like maybe in Camden. Or Varnumtown. Maybe every now and then a winged dragon could swoop down and eat your car on the dashboard GPS screen, just for funnsies. We take ourselves much too seriously nowadays, I think a little "Here There Be Monsters" would help.

I suppose that's a pipe dream, so in the meantime there's this cool book all about those monsters on old maps. Seems they can tell us a lot about history, zoology, politics, economics, psychology and religion. Yeah. Maybe. Read the review and decide for yourself. But I'm getting the book, because monsters are cool.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Man's Reach Should Exceed His Grasp

Or what's a Heaven for?

That's a quote from Robert Browning, apparently. I had to look it up. I've been trying to live that. I've been trying to accept new challenges that lie outside my comfort zone. I figure that's a good way to grow even after hitting this middle age thing, follow my hero Walt Disney's advice and open door news and do new things. This fall, I'm awash in open doors and new things in the form of involvement with our local community theatre and our church, and while it is truly fun, sometimes I'm reminded just how far from my grasp my reach tends to be.

I've written of my involvement in a production of The 39 Steps, a really cool play we are putting on in a really cool theater here and here. That's going to be taking up a good deal of my time this fall, and it's going to lead me down some new paths and provide some new challenges, but I feel very confident in my ability to play my part well enough to help make our show a success. That's not where my grasp vs. reach thing comes into play. What has been worrying me more lately is my service as a member of the theatre group's board of directors. I was asked to join the board by my best friend's mom and agreed because I trust her judgement, and because telling her "no" is pretty much unthinkable. You'd have to meet her to understand. Up til now, the board work has been largely within my grasp, but here lately maybe not so much. We are heading into a new season and beginning the process of figuring out what it will look like. I'm reminded how ignorant I am of all things theatrical.  I don't know shows. I haven't heard of many, let alone have any sort of familiarity with them. I don't know the process by which the board has set up a season in the past, and they are acting like they don't either. That's the infuriating part. And it's not enough that I agreed to be ON the governing board of a theatre company with zero experience in anything theatrical, I let myself be elected president-elect of the damned thing. Again, Miss Anne, my pal's mom, thought it was a good idea and I went along. No one else wanted to do it and I do truly care about this organization, so I'm not complaining, but it's starting to worry me. The one person I thought would be happy about my taking over the reigns is ambivalent at best, and I must say that troubles me. And that leads to the other problem I have with being president of this outfit. There are a few people involved who aren't very nice, who have hurt my pal and who generally lack the social skills to successfully interact with the rest of the human race. I hoped that taking the presidency of this group would allow me to stop the nastiness and drama (yeah, I wanted to stop the drama in a theater group. I'm a fool, I know) and let the truly good things the group does in the community lead the way. I still hope I can do that, but I am wondering if I can. I don't feel much in the way of confidence from myself or anyone else. But I'll try.

Then there's the church thing. Yeah. So I agreed after Pastor Fred asked me to join the Staff Parish Committee about a year ago. It's exactly like the Miss Anne thing, Fred asks and I am NOT going to say "no." That went well, it played to my strength and experience. But I always had, and continue to have, this nagging feeling that I'm a fraud. The folks on church committees tend to be a bit more, let's just say "pious" than I am. I was just recently asked to join a new committee, one tasked with determining the direction of the church as it heads into the future. The man organizing the committee said he wanted people "representing all facets of the church." I suppose he wanted the almost-heathens represented when he thought of my name. No one there can think I'm one of the more religious ones. Most know I'm a beer salesman. I don't ever profess to be particularly religious. I don't get why my name keeps coming up. I feel like I've fooled someone somewhere, but I haven't tried to at all, I swear. I can fool people into thinking I like them, I am happy when I'm not, I agree with them when I don't or pretty much anything else I set my mind to, but in this case I haven't. I just don't get it. We had a meeting of what is nominally called the "Vision Team" on Saturday and I was so far out of my element, I felt really uncomfortable. We did exercises concerning bible stories and our favorite hymns. I can't remember hardly any bible stories and I don't like hymns. At all. I  muddled through, but  it was strange. What was really strange was that the group took my muddlings as the representative voice of the whole committee. No. Please don't do that. I mean, don't you know that I have no idea what I'm talking about? That I am a salesman and a nerd and the odd one out who has learned to fake it as best he can? You really want to listen to me? Well, I'm not sure I want them to listen me. I'm only there as an experiment, can't they see that? It kills me. It makes me feel like a lie.

I think that's why I can't feel good about doing what I did with Gina last week. It was a lie. She will be no better off after that than she was before. I'm a fixer by nature and I couldn't fix Gina, not even a little. I did the surface kindness, but I know it is meaningless in the grand scheme.

I know I'm right to try to reach, but it's that grasp thing......

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Needle And The Damage Done

I ran into an old acquaintance today. Gina used to be bartender/front end manager at a long defunct Long Beach restaurant called Bogey's. I always liked Gina. She was easy to like, funny, smart, hard working, responsible and drop dead gorgeous. When Bogey's closed she moved around from place to place, but never as far as I know left the Southport/Oak Island area. I would go months without seeing her, then she'd pop up in another place or we'd run into each other at a grocery store or something. We never were close, never really anything like friends, heck, we had trouble remembering each other's names, but we always said "hi" and exchanged pleasantries at least. Gina got a job at Food Lion here on the island I guess last year sometime and we saw more of each other. She had started looking older, losing some of that energy that made her attractive. She was on a different track then me, that was clear, and sad. But I never realised  how different until today.

This morning I ran across Gina sitting on a bench outside the front door to Food Lion. I noticed a cast on her arm and asked what happened. She turned and looked up at me and I saw the cast was the least of her worries. She looked terrible, and in tears. She said, "When you are done working in there, on your way out, can you talk to me? I really need to talk to someone and I just don't know what to do." I'm going to be honest here, my first thought was to avoid her. I said "sure" and walked into the store planning to leave another way and avoid whatever drama she had going. She had trouble simply written all over her. I wasn't in the mood for trouble, she wasn't a friend and she wasn't my problem at all. I'm not a humanitarian. Not at all. I'm a misanthrope and generally believe people live the lives they make for themselves.

But then I stopped, about twenty steps inside the door of Food Lion, and turned around. I still don't know why. I didn't want to, so I am not claiming to be a good person here. I just felt like I needed to. Pastor Fred at our church has been talking a lot lately about looking for the opportunities to do good for others and I have been thinking a lot about how lucky I am and wondering how I can express how thankful I am. I don't know if it was guilt or fear of future guilt or what, but I turned around and went back outside and sat next to Gina. She looked surprised. I asked her what was wrong.

She claimed to have been "slipped a mickey" the night before. This isn't impossible to believe, this town is full of dirtbags and while Gina wasn't the beauty she used to be, judged on the scale of the Brunswick County bar scene, she would rate right up there on the attractiveness scale. She said she didn't know where her car was. More than that, she didn't know where she'd been the night before or who's shirt she was wearing. She claimed to have a memory blackout of some kind.

As she spoke, her story got worse. She was homeless and living in her car. She had $20 to her name and it was in her car, along with her ID and glasses. She had broken her arm a few days before and had been taken to Dosher Hospital, or maybe she drove herself, she couldn't remember. She repeated herself a lot. Details changed and times were pretty fluid. She cried; not sobbing crying, but just tears running down her face as she retold parts of her story. She was a mess.

I have very little experience with drugs, and none personally (I've never even smoked a cigarette). All I know is from watching others, but unfortunately I've seen a few people succumb to addiction, so I knew enough to see she was pretty well "strung out" on something. But what am I to do about it? Who do you call? I didn't trust the police to react with any sort of compassion. She wanted to go to see a man I'm pretty sure is the source of whatever she was taking, so that was out. I thought about my church, but couldn't imagine what they'd do. I figured the ER was the best bet, largely because she clearly needed medical care and I hoped a hospital would have connections with social services, but also because my friend Kelly works at the hospital and I trust her implicitly to know what to do in pretty much any situation.

I told Gina I thought her car must be at Dosher, so I would drive her over there to look for it. She said, "But I don't want to go in, they won't let me out and then how will I find my car?" I just told her it was a good place to start and led her to my car and helped her inside and off we went. It was a horrifying ride. The shirt she was wearing was a men's tank top with the arm holes cut to the waist and she had no bra, which meant her boobs were all over the place. She was snotty and crying. She had a little box of wine she sipped now and again as she was telling me about her life now and it was sad. She was just coherent enough to be depressing. She KNEW how screwed up she was. She knew I knew her before she was like this and tried to put the best face on a horrible situation. She lied, showing me a bunch of needle holes on her arms and blaming them on the IVs at the hospital. Even my naive self finally got it after seeing those. Heroin. I'd seen that before on an ex-coworker.

We got to Dosher and I made a show of driving her around to look for her car. I didn't know what she'd do when I told her we were going to get her inside. I spotted an open spot and pulled in. She didn't say anything. I said, "Look, Gina. You need a doctor. I'll go inside with you and we'll talk to someone. They can help." She argued a bit and I told her she wasn't getting a choice, we were going to the ER. She said, "But I'm scared." I told her it was some scary shit she was experiencing, so it was ok to be scared, but that we were going to find some help anyhow. She insisted on holding my hand on the way in. Whatever, she went.

As we walked up to the nurse's desk in the ER, I was trying to figure out how I could be helpful but make plain Gina wasn't MY problem. Yep, I'm a selfish asshole like that. I flashed back to the play we were reading through a couple weeks ago. Annabelle Schmidt says to Richard Hannay, "If I tell you, you will be INVOLVED. Do you want to be...INVOLVED?" Well, no, frankly, I really, really don't thank you very much. I hate hospitals, I am uncomfortable asking for help, I have no experience with strung out, half naked, half starved amnesiac women and I just want to be about anywhere else. The nurse asks Gina for a date of birth but not a name. She doesn't seem to think anything about our story odd. She tells her to sit down and wait for the triage nurse.

I find Kelly and she says that yes, they do have a person who can help with the social services aspect, that I've done the right thing and taken Gina to the right place. The nurse comes for Gina who refuses to go with her unless I come too, so someone tracks me and Kelly down and I go back and take Gina to the triage nurse. She is NOT amused. Seems Gina is a bit of a regular lately, the stuff she told me happened a few days ago really happened yesterday. I REALLY don't want to be there now. Gina is in good hands and I don't want to insinuate any real connection. God knows what the nurse thinks I'm doing with her. I tell the nurse I'm leaving, she doesn't even acknowledge I am there in the first place, which suits me fine. I tell Gina. She wants to know if I can at least promise her that she will get a blanket and some food at the hospital. I tell her I do promise, she will have a blanket and food. She wants to give me a hug so we hug. I walk out, leave the building and get in my car and go back to work. I don't know what happened to Gina and I find I really don't care to know. I did what I could and that's enough.

Why am I writing about this? I don't really know. It's not to say I'm any sort of great guy do-gooder. I'm not. I didn't want to do any of this one little bit. It shook me up. I glimpsed a world that is frightening to me. I would much rather pretend it doesn't exist. But that is exactly what Fred was talking about NOT doing. But it's hard and I don't like it. I did my good deed and now I want to forget it, so I'm putting it on here. Maybe I can come back and read it later and know better how to react, but for now I just want to forget. Doing good is supposed to make you feel good, right? Well, it didn't. And I don't know what to think about that.